Health Minister calls for body pledge revolution

New Delhi: Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has announced a fresh government initiative to ensure that organs and tissues are collected scientifically from donors and distributed to patients-in-need at minimum cost.

He said that Safdarjung Hospital in the national capital will house the first National Organ and Tissue Transplantation Organisation (NOTTO). It will maintain computerised networks with 24 identified transplant and organ retrieval centres here. It will be commissioned within 18 months.

“I wish to see a body pledging revolution in India. But before that I will put in place a state-of-art interface system between organ and recipients. At present only a handful of private hospitals are controlling information on organ availability, which is making costs prohibitive for the common man.

Soon public institutions will make possible for speedy and effective distribution of kidneys, hearts, lungs, bones, tissues, cornea, skin and cells at token cost to those who can pay and free to the poor,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said.

Yesterday, a dry-run was successfully carried out between IGI Airport and a Gurgaon private hospital in which a dummy heart was transported over a 15.4 km distance in 15 minutes through rush hour traffic. In normal days, this would have taken at least twice the time. In June, two heart transplants were carried out in Chennai using the “green corridor” system.

Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “I am convinced now that Indian society is ready for a revolution insofar as organ donation and transplantation are concerned. It is my job as Minister to make it work on the ground.”

The health minister added that he would consult the state governments at the next meeting of the Central Council of Health on setting up NOTTO-like institutions in all state capitals. The proposed Universal Health Assurance Plan which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has articulated will have an organ donation component, he said.

Under the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), Rs 149 crore had been allotted for setting up organ donation facilitation infrastructure. However, in the first two years only about Rs 10 crore was spent, the Minister said.
The new government intends implementing a nationwide programme for not only setting up NOTTO-like bodies, but also spreading social awareness so that there is never a dearth of organs and tissues for recipients, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said.

The health minister said that today, organ donation from the brain dead to patients-in-need is facilitated by law. But having progressive laws is not enough. The rate of organ donation in India is only 0.16 per 1 million population, compared to 40 in Spain and 35 in the United States, he said.

“Though my heart swells with pride on reading of green corridors, I am also sorry to note that most people in this country are not yet free from superstition that inhibits them from even implementing the pledges made by their parents, leave alone committing their own bodies for donation. I appeal to the new generation to change this mindset and bring about a revolution”, Dr Harsh Vardhan said.

The minister gave his blood for Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing yesterday at a function to re-launch the Asian-Indian Donor Marrow Registry, said he, along with his wife, had pledged their bodies in the late 1990s.

He also had a role in the birth of the Dadhichi Deh Daan Samiti, Delhi’s premier NGO in promoting the donation culture, which over the years has registered over 3,000 donors, including the late social activist Nanaji Deshmukh and VHP leader Giriraj Kishore who died last month, he said.

“I assure the entire youthful population that nothing gives me higher joy than the knowledge that after my lease of life is over my body will come of some use to those in need of skin, bones, cornea and tissues. So, please help in making a revolution happen,” the minister said.

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